Posted by: Matt | August 23, 2009

Packing with the Folks

Last week my parents came and my son came to visit us here in Ellensburg. The intent was to get everyone outside and up as much as possible over the course of the week. I had planned many day trips and overnighters, but the common denominator of our collective experience limited us to one of each. Still everyone had a great time and while my distances were down last week, the time I spent outside getting what I got was way up.

The Whole Crew

The Whole Crew

On Monday of last week I took everyone up to Esmerelda Basin (#1394) which is an old favorite for Tess and me. The parking lot was incredibly full for a Monday. Dad and I had to jokey two trucks into the little left over space remaining. There was another group of kids getting ready for what looked like an overnighter into the backcountry. Big frame packs and ice axes, no ropes or helmets. I tried to keep my chuckles to myself.

GP in the Distance

GP in the Distance

Considering the traffic in the parking lot the trail was undeniably untrammeled. The kids must have turned off to Ingalls Lake because we didn’t see anyone all the way up. There has been quite a bit of drying out in this valley this summer. You can still find water and there are places with blossoms showing, but where the trail is exposed to sunshine it has been ground to a fine, dusty powder and it gets pretty toasty from time to time.

Hawkins to the West

Hawkins to the West

Soon the whole family was stopping to dip bandanas into cold mountain water. Tie one of these around your neck and the world suddenly cools a few degrees.

Whos got energy?  Perhaps too much energy?

Who's got energy? Perhaps too much energy?

The summit took a while to get to, but everyone trucked along chatting and enjoying one another’s company. I tried to stay behind with the dogs and was impressed that Justin was doing so well with the addition of trekking poles.

You know ...

You know ...

We ate lunch at the pass and soaked it all in for a bit then on the return trip we started to run into more people. A camp gaggle from down the way of horse riders, several groups of young people returning from parts unknown, and some interspersed couples on their way back.

Esmerelda Peaks that-a-way

Esmerelda Peaks that-a-way

This was a predictably good way to start off the week. Everyone had a good time.

On Tuesday we spent the morning putting together packs for a short trip into Gem Lake via Snow Lake (#1013 and #1012) although I wasn’t quite certain where we’d actually end up. We drove up to the pass, got Dad a parking pass from the automated kiosk, and then started scouting trail heads. The PCT-S (#2000-S) was nearly abandoned, PCT-N (#2000-N) looked like a weekend, and the trail head to Snow Lake (#1013) looked like a convention might be taking place somewhere on the side of the mountain. I’m not quite sure what got into me, but a strange compulsion took hold of me and I stopped my truck on the far side of the incredibly large and full parking lot for Snow Lake.

Snow Lake Parking Lot Hell

Snow Lake Parking Lot Hell

Packs loaded and dogs leashed we started our trek up the hill. Again I held back taking up the rear position of our line to ensure everyone was doing ok and so that I wouldn’t start running. Mom’s right foot had some blister action going so I got to play Doctor Matt and kept her company for quite a while. Justin was moving so fast with the trekking poles that someone might have imagined he likes to hike. The way up was jam packed with people traffic. You’d take a few steps and then have to park off to the side to let someone by. Over and over again.

Ready

Ready

After we crested the pass into Snow Lake a whistle was heard off down near the lake at the end of a boulder field. “Tweet, tweet, tweet” it was the same tone and the cadence was regular. At first I didn’t think much of it figuring it was a marmot or a kid playing with a rescue whistle. It did sound like a rescue whistle. It wasn’t stopping. There were people stopped all along the short descent into the lake’s depression listening and discussing what it might be. Maybe it *was* a rescue whistle? Maybe someone should go see to whoever was blowing it? I took off down the trail, dogs trailing behind me. As I got closer I started yelling “If you’re hurt keep whistling so I can find you!” The whistles didn’t stop. Finally I got to a point where I had to leave the trail to get any closer to the whistler. I unhooked the dogs and set out over the steep boulder field.

Mom at the trail head

Mom at the trail head

Then the whistle cadence changed and I saw my prankster. A big fat marmot who hadn’t gotten the memo stating that marmots are only supposed to sound like marmots and not rescue whistles was sitting atop a boulder laughing so hard he looked like he might burst at the seams. I dubbed him “Lunch” and worked my way back up to the trail. Little bastard!

The hike up to Gem Lake from the north side of the Snow Lake depression is much improved once the snow melts away. By evening we had browsed our way through blueberries and arrived at the edge of Gem Lake. Mom, who had been fighting valiantly against blisters the whole way, was about done for so we set up camp for the night. Large plates of spaghetti were prepared and eaten with determination. Vast hoards of mosquitos were fed quarts of well spaghettied blood. Chubby bats made sport of well-nourished blood suckers as the sun went down in the west.

Morning view of Gem Lake and Hoards of Blood Suckers

Morning view of Gem Lake and Hoards of Blood Suckers

The Perseids are still falling and the five sipped our beers (it’s amazing what you can smuggle in the empty spaces of an ultra-light pack) and hooted as they came zipping through the upper atmosphere.

The next morning I woke up early, dawned my shoes, grabbed a water bottle and two dogs and started running for the Wildcat Lakes. I more or less cleared Gem Lake, but there was a party of trail workers and USDA FS Rangers camped on either side of the trail as it snaked its way through the pass to Wildcat Lakes. Not feeling like leashing the mutts (who were of course on heal and under voice command) I turned back to the camp.

By the time I returned the mosquitoes were out and swarming. We struck camp deciding that breakfast could wait until we located a blood-sucker-free-zone. We ended up making coffee and eating down near the outflow for Snow Lake which was perfect. No mosquitoes whatsoever.

Justin leading the way

Justin leading the way

The rest of the trail down was uneventful. Mom’s foot was still bothering her, but she seemed to be doing ok and took off with Justin at the lead. Dad and I chatted a bit, Tess and I did the same. We descended.

After the switch backs the people headed into the area got thicker than the mosquitoes at Gem Lake. There was at least one party of 20 or more trooping up the trail oblivious to the 12 person rule in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Many other smaller groups were headed up as well.

****

Caveat #1: Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this you should know that I really should have taken us along the PCT-S (#2000-S) we would have had just as good a time without the crowds. Otherwise we had a great time and are looking forward to your next visit.

Caveat #2: My GPS ran out of juice about four hours into the ascent to Gem Lake. Mileage for these two days is based on the Falcon Guide for Alpine Lakes Wilderness estimates and confirmed with the measuring tool in Google Earth. Times are best effort, but pretty close. My watch was still working.

Caveat #3: Still not sure why Tess hides from the camea’s lens.  I’m going to make September’s goal one in which I collect candid shots and post them all on the blog so that you’ll all stop wondering if I’m really married.

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